Deforestation in Amazon rainforest exceeds 11,000 km²

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has surged to its highest level since 2008, the country's space agency (Inpe) reports.

A total of 11,088 sq km (4,281 sq miles) of rainforest were destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020. This is a 9.5% increase from the previous year.

The Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. Scientists say it has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.

The Brazilian president has encouraged agriculture and mining activities in the world's largest rainforest.

The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

The latest data marked a major increase from the 7,536 sq km announced by Inpe in 2018 - the year before Bolsonaro took office.

The new figures are preliminary, with the official statistics set to be released early next year.

media captionA section of the Amazon forest is systematically removed over a three-year period

Brazil had set a goal of slowing the pace of deforestation to 3,900 sq km annually by 2020.

In addition to encouraging development in the rainforest, President Bolsonaro has also cut funding to federal agencies that have the power to fine and arrest farmers and loggers breaking environmental law.

Bolsonaro has previously clashed with Inpe over its deforestation data. Last year, he accused the agency of smearing Brazil's reputation.

In a statement, Brazilian non-governmental organisation Climate Observatory said the figures "reflect the result of a successful initiative to annihilate the capacity of the Brazilian State and the inspection bodies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon".

But some officials said the fact that the rate of increase was lower than that recorded last year was a sign of progress.

The data released today show that the Bolsonaro administration and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles failed to fulfill plans announced in 2019. Without citing any goal, Salles said at the time that he intended to eliminate illegal deforestation with the establishment of what he called just "strategies," without explaining them.

At Inpe's headquarters Monday, Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who chairs the Amazon Council, said the Armed Forces' employment in fighting deforestation started "late." Mourao said the presence of the military is already having an effect, since an increase of 20% in the deforested area was estimated.

"While we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit," Vice-President Hamilton Mourão told reporters.

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